As someone who strongly prefers savory flavors to sweet, Caesar salad has been the Romeo to my salad-loving Juliette since the very first bite. Salty, cheesy, lemon-y, bright, crunchy, and slightly fishy, it’s an amalgamation of flavors + textures that go almost suspiciously well together. I have some personal requirements for what makes a good Caesar salad, though. I like my lemon strong and punchy, I like my dressing a bit fishy, and I also need a smoky element to it.
I discovered this last one after having a Caesar salad in Los Angeles that had grilled their romaine over coals before incorporating it into the salad, which added a smoky complexity to the dish that made my mouth water and my head explode. Since it’s kind of a pain to grill romaine on the reg, I wanted a way to bring that smokiness to the salad without having to break out the grill a few times a month. So, I started incorporating smoked paprika into the Caesar dressing, and HOLY MACKEREL. It adds the *perfect* touch of smokiness, plus the delightful mild pepper flavor of paprika that we all know and love.
This salad also gets a smoky kick from charred lemons, which are used in the dressing and also served with the salad for optional extra lemon-y drizzling. The key to charring lemons is to do so on a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, and to char them just until the edges touching the pan are a nice deep brown with a golden hue, you *don’t* want the lemons to actually turn black. It helps to use a spatula to lift them up every so often as they’re searing away to make sure you don’t accidentally burn them.
FYI, the Caesar salad recipe below is a vegetarian base, with an option to add in a cup of cooked chopped chicken or roasted chickpeas if you want a bit more protein. I have my go-to recipe for roasted chickpeas below from my cheeseboard post, too—they’re an awesome way to boost the protein levels of any salad and make it a bit more filling. Plus, chickpeas have lots of fiber and nutrients and are generally very good for you (and taste awesome!) Hope you enjoy it, my friends!
Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons
This delicious fresh take on a Caesar salad involves a touch of smokiness from charred lemon and a bit of smoked paprika, along with all the other traditional goodness like parmesan cheese, garlic, and anchovies.
- 1 lemon cut in half
- 6 cloves garlic coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
- 3 tablespoons good mayonnaise
- 1-2 teaspoons minced anchovy filets (I like it more anchovy-y, if you prefer less anchovy flavor just do 1 teaspoon)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon flake kosher sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 4 1/2 cups french bread torn into roughly 1 to 2-inch pieces and left out overnight to get stale
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon quartered
- 1 head romaine lettuce torn or cut into bite-size pieces
- 1/3 cup freshly shaved parmesan cheese
- Caesar dressing see above
- Homemade croutons see above
- 1 cup chopped cooked chicken or roasted chickpeas (see below recipe) optional
- Flake sea salt garnish
- Freshly cracked black pepper garnish
- Smoked paprika garnish
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix together the salt, paprika, and pepper in a small bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, toss together the bread and olive oil until coated. Then toss the salt mixture with the bread until evenly distributed. Spread them out over 2 baking sheets and bake in the oven until deeply golden, about 25 min.
Heat a seasoned cast iron pan over medium high heat. Sear the halved lemon, cut side facing down, until a warm brown around the edges, but *not* black, about 5 minutes. Repeat this with the quartered lemon under the 'Caesar Salad' ingredient list. Set the seared quartered lemon aside for serving.
Squeeze the juice from one of the halved charred lemons into a blender or food processor (1/2 of a lemon makes about 2 tablespoons of juice). Add the garlic, parmesan, mayonnaise, anchovy, black pepper, smoked paprika, and Worcestershire sauce and blend at low speed.
If using a blender, remove the small circle in the center of the cap. While the blender pr food processor is running at low speed, add the olive oil in a thin continuous drizzle.
Once all the olive oil is added, increase the speed to medium and blend until smooth. Turn the blender off, taste, and add more lemon from the other charred lemon half if desired.
Toss the lettuce with the parmesan, Caesar dressing, and croutons. If you want some protein, feel free to mix in 1 cup of chopped cooked chicken or roasted chickpeas. Serve with lemon wedges for extra juicing. Garnish with a pinch of flake sea salt, cracked black pepper, and smoked paprika to taste.
- 1 13-ounce jar of chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon flake sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoom ground chipotle (for spicy) or smoked paprika (for mild)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a medium bowl, toss together the chickpeas, olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and chipotle chili or paprika until the chickpeas are coated in the mixture.
Spread the chickpeas out evenly on a baking sheet and place it in the oven.
Roast until the chickpeas are deeply golden and some have split, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring them on the pan halfway through.